Simon Mann: A Very English Killer

Merrick, 4th October 2004ce

On 10th September 2004 a Zimbabwean court sentenced Simon Mann to seven years in jail for illegally buying arms for a coup against Equatorial Guinea. The BBC news report called him a ‘coup plotter’, in quotation marks.

Isn’t it odd how whenever someone British is tried abroad the media always take their side. Always, this insinuation that it’s a miscarriage of justice, some terrible travesty, cos surely our people are good, and anyway no other country is grown-up enough to have a proper legal system, not like our faultless one here.

Even after conviction their crime is put in quotation marks, their case is treated as unproven. They are never referred to as a ‘murderer’, they’re always ‘convicted of murdering’.

Simon Mann was described in the British press as ‘looking more like a jailed intellectual than a freelance commando’. What is there in a mercenary leader’s appearance that would be so different from a jailed intellectual? As Leonard Cohen said in response to the normality of the captured Nazi Adolf Eichmann, ‘what did you expect? Talons? Oversize incisors? Green saliva?’.

The BBC even had a big-print quote from someone calling this mercenary leader a ‘humane man... very English, a romantic, tremendously good company’.

A humane and romantic breaker of both British law and the Geneva Convention, Mann is an ex-SAS soldier who runs a company called Executive Outcomes. They are mercenary soldiers, using apartheid South Africa’s special forces for butchering whoever they are paid to. The phrase 'international terrorist' could not be more aptly applied.

The quote from a friend saying he and his companies have ‘been scrupulous about operating in concert with Western policy goals’ is right on the money though.

Him and his mercenary scum friends have been making sure the rich get richer by fucking over the poor and the environment, a clear Western policy goal if ever there was one. They’ve exacerbated wars in order to get themselves personal wealth not only by providing the troops, but by taking the mineral resources of the lands they’re fighting in.

It’s not surprising Mann was collared in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean authorities acted in part to defend the regime of Equatorial Guinea, but there are old scores to settle too.

Eeben Barlow, founder and, until recently, director of Executive Outcomes, was second in command of apartheid South Africa’s elite special forces 32 Battalion, and was also an agent of the Civil Co-Operation Bureau which murdered anti-apartheid activists both at home and abroad. The majority of Executive Outcomes’ soldiers are drawn from apartheid South Africa’s special forces. Their old job entailed destabilising several southern African governments, including Zimbabwe.

Still under the regime that took independence from the white colonialists, the Zimbabwean authorities are always ready to take on the old racist governments of southern Africa. Or the next best thing, their elite forces run by colonial directors like Simon Mann.

He’s going to have seven years in a cruel all-male prison of punishment and buggery. As an old Etonian, he’s well prepared.

Despite what his friends may say, he’s not such ‘tremendously good company’ if you’re trying to defend your ancestral land against a multinational mining corporation. In Bougainville, an island off Papua New Guinea (PNG), transnational mining corporation RTZ ran the Panguna copper mine, one of the largest human-made holes on earth.

Survival International has called RTZ the ‘worst of the world’s worst’ corporations with respect to indigenous people and the environment.

To make Panguna they destroyed vast tracts of forest, and in running the mine they have poisoned the local rivers. The people who live there had their livelihoods taken away, and all the profits went to the PNG government and the mining companies.

The exploitation had extra resonance for the Bougainvillians. They got constitutionally lumped in with PNG by colonial Britain and Germany; culturally and ethnically they’re Solomon Islanders with little to do with PNG.

The Bougainvillians defended themselves with the splendidly acronymmed Bougainville Revolutionary Army. Their direct action forced the closure of the mine. In May 1990 Bougainville declared its independence, status only recognised by the Solomon Islands.

The PNG forces fought back, but the BRA outwitted them. Under siege, they made their guns from piping lying around at the mine. They fuelled their vehicles with coconut oil. They relearned the medicinal properties of their native plants. They became self-sufficient. They had successfully fought to reclaim their land for sustainable living instead of mineral extraction. It was the world’s first environmentally-motivated revolution.

After eight years of losing, the PNG government hired Sandline, a British-based company of mercenaries. They subcontracted their friends Executive Outcomes to provide troops, weapons, aircraft and training to the PNG forces. They were hired for $36m to fight for three months or until the BRA were beaten.

The PNG military didn’t like the idea of the mercenaries, and the rift between the military and the government forced a change of Prime Minister to avert a civil war. The military then kicked the mercenaries the hell out. To this day, the government in PNG knows it must play second fiddle to the military.

When it went tits up and got Western coverage, Sandline said they’d be brought in to merely ‘advise’, and that their troops were going to use their Mi24 helicopter gunships to do nothing harsher than broadcast propaganda.

Their leader Lt Colonel Tim Spicer was booted out of the country. He told reporters ‘I don’t want to get into a debate about the rights and wrongs of the issue’. Nope, just be told which darkies to kill and get on with it, right Tim?

A ceasefire was negotiated in 1998, and the Bougainvillians have got their own government and are looking at full independence within a decade.

The combination of expert killing and mineral wealth is at the core of what Mann and friends do. Executive Outcomes was registered in the UK by Simon Mann and Tony Buckingham. Buckingham is also ex-SAS, and chief executive of a company called Heritage Oil And Gas. Heritage is associated with a Canadian corporation, Ranger Oil. Both companies had drilling operations in Angola. Since the mid-1970s Angola had been riven with civil war between the Marxist government fighting the UNITA militia assisted covertly by South African special forces.

In 1993, Mann and Buckingham used Executive Outcomes troops to capture the Angolan oil town of Soyo from UNITA for Heritage Oil. Soon after the EO troops left, UNITA retook the town. Having been impressed with EO’s work, the Angolan government hired EO to fight for them in exchange for oil concessions.

EO were effectively an oil company with a private army. Weirder still, they were fighting UNITA using the same South African soldiers who’d once fought alongside them!

Other great romantic adventures of Mann’s include running guns and 120 mercenaries to Sierra Leone in 1995 at the height of the killing, in direct contravention of a UN embargo designed to limit arms input and stem the bloodshed.

They pulled a couple of PR stunts – memorably taking a Sierra Leone football team to the African All Nations Cup – but they weren’t in Sierra Leone to be socially useful. You don’t bring two Mi17 transporter gunship helicopters, an Mi24 helicopter gunship and an Andover casualty evacuation aircraft with you unless you’re there to fight and kill.

They were paid around $40m and, as in Angola, an ongoing mineral interest. This time it’s a 25 year lease for EO’s diamond mining sister company Branch Energy on the enormously lucrative Koidu diamond mines in the area EO had been fighting in.

So, having done that in Angola and Sierra Leone, it’s not too hard to guess what they were thinking when they went into the mineral-rich Bougainville debacle. It’s made clear in a letter from Sandline’s Tim Spicer to PNG Prime Minister Julius Chan dated 1 August 1996, six months before EO troops went in, proposing ‘a joint venture with your government, ourselves and RTZ to reopen and operate the Bougainville mine once recovered’.

A report by the United Nations' Special Rapporteur Enrique Bernales Ballesteros says this is common. Once a degree of security and stability has been achieved, the mercenary organisation ‘apparently begins to exploit the concessions it has received by setting up a number of associates and affiliates… thereby acquiring a significant, if not hegemonic, presence in the economic life of the country in which it is operating.’

Once it was colonial governments who would send in the soldiers to acquire the natural resources of poor nations, now it’s private enterprise. The same old British aristocracy, the same brutality and exploitation, just a couple of generations later.

Sandline and Executive Outcomes aren’t the only ones. There are a number of ‘contract military’ firms in Britain; Control Risks Group, Integrated Security Systems, Saladin Security and Defence Systems Limited. DSL was set up in 1981 by, surprise surprise, ex-SAS soldiers. It describes its ‘core business’ as ‘devising and implementing solutions to complex problems through the provision of highly-qualified specialists with extensive international experience in practical security’. As with the others, they’re active in mineral-rich hotspots. They even got the job of guarding the US embassy in Democratic Republic of Congo.

The other country with plenty of mercenary forces on offer is, unsurprisingly, the USA. They follow the same model – formed by ex-high ups from the military, they maintain a personnel rota of ex-special forces and sell themselves using pretty clear language. Military Professional Resources Incorporated, for example, is run by people like General Carl Vuono (US Military Chief of Staff during the Panama and Gulf War campaigns) and General Frederick Kroensen (ex Commander of the US Army in Europe). They offer ‘worldwide corporate contractual functions requiring skills developed from military service’.

Tim Spicer closed down Sandline after the bad publicity, but his work continues. His new company, Aegis Defence Services, have landed a $300m contract providing ‘counter-insurgency operations’ in Iraq. These are the sorts of people who are referred to as ‘security contractors’ in news reports about Iraq.

It suits the soldiers – the pay is better than the regular army with shorter tours of duty. It suits the US government and their allies too; sending the mercenaries in on the dangerous jobs minimises the number of real soldiers killed and if they use notably deplorable methods the government doesn’t get the blame.

This is the same system of killing for resources as we’ve seen for five centuries, with just a little shift. As power cedes from the nation state to the transnational corporation, so the muscle is moving with it. In this peculiar transitional stage, it is the same individual soldiers who used to fight for one that now fight for the other. Their job is the same. Indeed, they readily admit it. Eeben Barlow, founder and ex-head of Executive Outcomes said, ‘I’m a professional soldier. It’s not about politics. I have a job to do. I do it’.

A Cape Town neighbour of his friend and co-coup plotter 'Sir' Mark Thatcher, Simon Mann represents the new generation of colonialism, using military force to take the natural resources of poorer countries.

Brutal, exploitative, greedy, murderous. Not humane, not romantic, but yes, historically speaking, very English.